Serial Film (2008). Timescience Bloodclub/Mutant Enemy. Directed by Joss Whedon. Written (including songs) by Joss Whedon, Zack Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, & Jed Whedon; lyrics by Joss Whedon, Tancharoen, and Jed Whedon; music by Joss Whedon and Jed Whedon. Cast includes Felicia Day, Nathan Fillion, Neil Patrick Harris and Simon Helberg. 3 episodes; 42 minutes total. Colour.
Written during the 2007-2008 Writer's Guild of America strike which delayed the starts of Dollhouse (2009-2010) and The Cabin in the Woods (2012), and made for favours, deferrals, and $200,000 of Whedon's own money, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was an independently produced project for the Whedon family (Tancharoen married Jed Whedon in 2009) to work on while they were prohibited from writing television or movies. A strikingly successful experiment in creator-owned, studio-free production and distribution, it aired first in July 2008 as a three-part webcast, and was released as a paid download on iTunes three months later, quickly becoming one of the store's top-selling items and an instant internet phenomenon. A DVD followed, supplemented with bonus featurettes and a scripted metamusical commentary including a suite of new songs, with a television premiere following in 2012; the songs were also released as an album, and the script and score published with additional material as Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: The Book (2011). Zack Whedon also wrote a number of spin-off comics, which were collected as Dr Horrible, and Other Horrible Stories (graph 2010), and the musical has been restaged in a number of amateur and fringe productions. Its deceptively lightweight tale tells the story of Billy, a Mad Scientist and aspiring super-Villain who goes by the name of Dr. Horrible and recounts his exploits – including his unsuccessful attempts to strike up a conversation with Penny, a cute girl at the laundromat – on his blog. When a botched heist throws Penny into the path of Captain Hammer, Dr. Horrible's cheesy, arrogant arch-nemesis, and the two begin to date, an enraged Billy plots to kill the Superhero, but his evil plan has tragic results which overturn the musical's up-to-then sympathetic portrayal of him. Despite low-end production values and a Satirical vein of mournful geek masculinity already heavily needle-scarred by Jonathan Coulton, its play with the musical form is deft and the songs excellent. Whedon had already experimented with the musical form in an episode of the cult series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), in which a spell forces the characters to express their feelings through song, which is generally acknowledged as one of the show's best episodes. In Dr. Horrible, with the help of his brothers and Tancharoen, he builds on that accomplishment with a score that features a wide range of musical styles, witty lyrics, and complicated arrangements, and which is bolstered by strong performances – both theatrical and vocal – from the three leads. It won the 2009 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, and an Emmy award for Special Class – Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment.
The success of Dr. Horrible has led some to speculate that independent production and online distribution may represent the future of television, but one should not ignore the role that the combined star-power of Whedon, creator of beloved geek artefacts such as Buffy and Firefly (2002), Harris, who overcame the curse of the former child star when he shot to fame in comedies like the film Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Fillion, who played the lead in Firefly, and Day, who was already an internet sensation due to writing and starring in her own web-series, The Guild, played in making Dr. Horrible such an enormous success. A sequel has been vaguely promised for some time. [AN/NL]
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